Say amen – SF Playhouse takes it to Church

Dec 06

Say amen – SF Playhouse takes it to <i>Church</i>

In many ways, John Patrick Shanley's Storefront Church, now at San Francisco Playhouse for a well-timed holiday run, is less about the battle between the material world and the spiritual world and more about finding the most personal of solutions to the stress and pull and darkness of life: being still.

In such a hectic world, stillness seems practically revolutionary, but that's where the Rev. Chester Kimmich (Carl Lumbly) finds himself: in stillness waiting for an answer or a way to cross the giant black hole that has opened up before him.

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Joseph’s Bengal Tiger prowls the SF Playhouse stage

Oct 06

Joseph’s <i>Bengal Tiger</i> prowls the SF Playhouse stage

The last time San Francisco Playhouse produced a play by Rajiv Joseph -- Animals Out of Paper in 2009 -- the young playwright was becoming one of the hottest writers in the country. TheatreWorks produced his The North Pool in 2011, just as his Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was preparing to bow on Broadway in a starry production that featured Robin Williams as the titular caged beast.

Joseph, with his Tony Award and Pulitzer nominations, has fully emerged as an American playwright of note and his work is back at San Francisco Playhouse to launch a new season, the second in the stellar theater on Post Street.

In Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Joseph has crafted a challenging war/ghost story that wrestles with the very notion of god (or, if you prefer, God).

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Life, death and a ’70s groove in Magic’s Happy Ones

Apr 04

Life, death and a ’70s groove in Magic’s <i>Happy Ones</i>

At first the music is loud and fun. Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" seems like the perfect audio accompaniment to a grown-up birthday party scene set in a Garden Grove, Califorina, suburban home, where the swimming pool gleams and the neighbors all swing with martinis well in hand.

Then there's silence. Tragedy strikes, and the SoCal dream life has no fitting accompaniment...until it does, and that sound comes from another part of the planet – Vietnam to be exact. There's a smattering of Creedence, of Paul Simon and Randy Newman. And when the good-time music returns, in the form of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime," but the "living the dream" moment has passed, and it's time for new songs and new chapters.

That's the story of The Happy Ones, an achingly beautiful play by Julie Marie Myatt now at Magic Theatre.

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Yo, Mofo! SF Playhouse tips a mighty fine Hat

Feb 06

Yo, Mofo! SF Playhouse tips a mighty fine <i>Hat</i>

[warning: this review does not hide or disguise the word "motherfucker" in the title of the play at hand]

The comedy, the intensity and all that rough language keeps things skittering right along in the San Francisco Playhouse production of The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis. The play is this rush of plot and character and language, then the sadness and despair lands. It takes Lionel Richie and the Commodores to underscore it, but man oh man is it there.

In so many ways, Gurigis' Hat is about growing up, about taking yourself and the world you live in seriously enough to find purpose and pursue it with as much discipline as you can muster. The grown-ups in the play, let it be said, don't do such a good job on the discipline part, although most of them have (or find) some degree of purpose.

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Holy Zuzu’s petals! Get into the spirit with Wonderful Life

Dec 06

Holy Zuzu’s petals! Get into the spirit with <i>Wonderful Life</i>

At a certain point, no matter how much you love Dickens or get your heart cockles warmed by Scrooge and Tiny Tim, you've had it. Enough already with A Christmas Carol. Some years you just need to take a Carol break and find a little holiday spark elsewhere.

This year, if you're searching for an alternative to Ebenezer and his ghosts, I recommend you head to Marin Theatre Company and spend some time with George Bailey and Clarence, his Angel Second Class. It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play takes Frank Capra's much loved 1946 film and turns it into a stage experience by transforming it into a radio play. As re-conceived by Joe Landry, we're in a Manhattan radio station on a snowy Christmas Eve as five actors play all the roles and create all the sound effects for a streamlined version of Capra's story.

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Shadows fall on suburbia in Yockey’s beguiling Bellwether

Oct 12

Shadows fall on suburbia in Yockey’s beguiling <i>Bellwether</i>

Audacious, entertaining and chilling, Steve Yockey’s world-premiere Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company goes where few plays dare to tread.

What starts out as a satiric look at suburban living – Bellwether is a nice neighborhood, we’re told over and over again, a gated community commuter distance from an unnamed big city – quickly becomes a potent family drama. A husband and wife (Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson) have hit some rocky ground as they and their about-to-turn-7 daughter try adjusting to suburban living.

The show becomes a crime thriller when little Amy disappears from her bed while her mom was downstairs with a neighbor and a bottle of wine. And then it turns into something Stephen King might dream up in a novel or short story. Yockey delves into the underworld of suburbia, a dark, dangerous place that balances the shiny, happy existence up top. That Yockey – MTC’s playwright in residence for the 2009-10 season – anchors the fantastical aspects of the story with his exploration of family life in the suburbs does him credit. He and director Ryan Rilette manage something very tricky here with a tone that shifts from satirical comedy to high drama to horror.

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